College of Liberal Arts

eFiles: Collaborative Pedagogy in Literature and Writing

The eFiles project is an innovative, real-world exercise in collaborative, creative pedagogy, currently with over 300 registered users. The users are primarily graduate assistant instructors and teaching assistants in the Department of English and the Department of Rhetoric and Writing, but also include faculty members. eFiles is a highly active, faculty moderated, and continuously growing dynamic database for instructors working in high-enrollment lower-division courses. Courses supported include:
  • Masterworks of Literature (E 316K) [5300 students both long semesters and both summer sessions]
  • Rhetoric and Writing (RHE 306) [2200 students both long semesters and both summer sessions]
  • Topics in Writing/Critical Reading and Persuasive Reading (RHE 309K-S) [600 students both long semesters and both summer sessions]
  • Literature across the Curriculum (E 314J) [160 students two semesters per year]
  • Introduction to Literary Studies (E 314L) [500 students two semesters per year]
  • Introduction to Literature and Culture (E 314V) [220 students two semesters per year]
  • Supervised Teaching in English and Rhetoric (E 398T) [20 students one semester per year]

After several years of use in its original format, the site has been recently re-released with a redesigned completed with the assistance of Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services. According to Dr. Phillip Barrish, Director of the Lower-Division Literature Program, the redesign has successfully:

Image used under Creative Commons license BY-2.0. Attribution: Flickr user

Dr. Phillip Barrish

  1. made the site more intuitive and visually attractive to users;
  2. increased navigational ease;
  3. made the process of contributing a resources extremely easy to manage.

"If e-Files works to establish community, a virtual space for sharing and thinking through pedagogy, then it becomes important for that space to be an inviting one, where instructors are motivated to spend time and explore." says graduate instructor Eileen McGinnis. "All of these factors have increased instructor participation," reports Barrish.

As part of a 2009-2010 Course Development Grant, the eFiles redesign is an excellent example of a of resource sharing site that any Liberal Arts department can set up using LAITS's new central installation of Drupal or another similar Content Management System (CMS). When asked for advice for other departments considering such effort, Barrish is encouraging, particularly for departments that make significant use of graduate student instructors.

"The site has helped the instructors of our lower-division courses feel as if they are engaged in a communal, collegial endeavor. The eFiles makes clear on an everyday level that their task is not merely to implement pedagogy that arrives from on high (faculty, the department) but also to think creatively," says Barrish. In addition to providing online access to official departmental course and instructor requirement and policies, as well as departmentally approved grading materials, models, and guidelines, there are many useful original instructor contributed resources including handouts, review sheets, in-class activities, and assignments available. The contributing instructors work hard to design for their own students, and the materials are valued and often adopted (and adapted) by their friends and colleagues and, in many cases, will be for years to come.

Departments who wish to create similar online collaborative spaces for their instructors are encouraged to consider the essentials needed for such an effort. First, it is helpful to have access to a person with the technical know-how within the department to support the type of space envisioned. eFiles is housed at the Digital Writing and Research Lab (DWRL) directed by Diane Davis, which is noted for its generosity in continuing to host the site. Hampton Finger of the DWRL continues to provide crucial assistance at the technical level. A long-term commitment on the part of the department to offer at minimum some part-time support for at least one graduate student, staff member, and/or faculty member to monitor, maintain, and tweak the site is also necessary.

By design, the eFiles remains a work perpetually in progress, and the Departments of English and Rhetoric have found it necessary maintain some faculty involvement with the site. Doing so provides continuity as graduate students come and go and also ensures that the resources generated and shared by graduate student instructors support the mission(s) the faculty envision for the courses in question. An open-source approach goes a long way toward facilitating the site's dynamism and creativity, but oversight is needed to ensure that the database continues to function as a valuable resource for instructors. Still, if a department wishes to explore a similar project for their graduate student instructors and teaching assistants, then they should contact LAITS Associate Director James Henson to discuss their project in detail.

by Emily Cicchini